This episode of BackStory with the American History Guys was originally broadcast in October 2011. This episode has been slightly edited and updated from that original version, which you can listen to here.
Halloween – despite its solemn Celtic roots – has become a safe way for Americans to transgress social norms and toy with the idea of ghosts in a family-friendly fashion. But for some, spirits from another plane have always been a very real part of life on this plane.
On this Halloween special, the History Guys explore Americans’ relationship with ghosts, spirits, and witches throughout our nation’s history. Why were colonists so fearful of New England “witches”? How is it that progressive social reformers found a home in the Spiritualist movement of the 19th century? Why do new media technologies always conjure talk of the undead? Can social upheaval help explain our history with the ineffable?